c. 1997 Kansas City Star
If it wasn't so darned real, Bill and Mary Whitney's marriage would have made a dandy soap opera.
Young love! A forbidden affair! A painful divorce.
But then! After 31 years without a single word spoken between them, they encountered each other again.
Like many divorced couples, Bill and Mary got remarried. Unlike many divorced couples, they got remarriedto each other.
The same thing happened to Bob and Nida Hill, who originally split up in the late '50s. Despite their best efforts over the next 18 years (in which Bob married, divorced, remarried and redivorced two other women) their breakup just didn't last. Now they're back together and happy. And they've been that way for the last 20 years.
Nida knows some people don't understand.
``People look at me like I've lost my marbles,'' she said.
She doesn't care. They're happy, and that's all that counts.
The same goes for the Whitneys, who found each other more than three decades after a dramatic breakup straight out of Melrose Place.
``This is one of those deals that you see on TV,'' said Bill Whitney, a 72-year-old Bonner Springs, Kan., woodworker. ``I ran off with her best friend. When you are young, you do things like that you wouldn't think of doing when you're older.''
Or maybe it's one of those deals you see in the movies.
In the current film ``That Old Feeling'' a long-divorced couple played by Bette Midler and Dennis Farina run into each other at their daughter's wedding. Friends worry that they'll argue and make a scene. They do. But later they find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other as ``that old feeling'' works its magic. While they do not remarry, the movie certainly suggests that they may remain together.
Is art imitating life?
Sure seems so.
Jan A. Myers, a Kansas City area psychologist specializing in children and families, knows her share of real life couples who have remarried each other after originally divorcing.
``For the most part people who remarry each other are people who didn't have the skills at the time of their divorce to empower them to work together as a team, so they get divorced,'' Myers said.
If their second marriage works where the first one didn't, she said, it's a sign that the partners have matured, changed, learned from their mistakes or developed better relationship skills. It's also a sign that ``they haven't lost their original attraction.''
Marilyn Coleman, a national expert on the subject of remarriage at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said there are no statistics on couples who remarry each other after divorcing.
``Remarrying someone you've divorced is just not that common,'' she said. ``But of my students who've mentioned that, in every case I can remember the divorce was because of (a very specific problem) that was later straightened out.''
Myers added, ``There is something very powerful about young love and the attraction that it holds in our memory banks.''
Indeed. We found two couples who are now very much in love after their divorce just didn't last. Here are their stories. Mary and Bill Whitney
It was 1946. At the time Mary Whitney was working as a secretary for a Wichita newspaper. Bill was doing woodwork for an aircraft company. They would often go to movies (separately) at the old State Theater in downtown Wichita. One day a mutual friend who worked at the theater introduced them.
They began seeing each other, then married in November of 1947. Mary had a child that they named Debi. And then, after four years of marriage...
``We parted,'' Mary said.
``Yeah, 'cause I ran off with another woman,'' Bill said.
Mary, then in her early 20s, was devastated. How could he do it? How could she?
Divorce soon followed. Bill went to Kansas City, while Mary stayed in Wichita with Debi. During the next 31 years, from roughly 1950 to 1980, they neither saw nor spoke to each other.
Bill married the ``other woman'' in 1952 and eventually moved to Bonner Springs. Their marriage lasted nearly three decades and produced one son, named William. It ended when Bill's wife died of lung cancer in 1981.
Suddenly Bill was alone.
Mary also remarried soon after the divorce. The marriage lasted 27 years and produced no children. But Mary was seldom happy.
``You don't like to think about those years,'' Mary said. ``He was quite a bit older. There wasn't much love. It was just a bad decision on my part.''
Finally she could take it no more. In 1981 they divorced.
Now Mary was alone, too.
She often thought of Bill, a roguishly handsome man who knew how to wow the ladies. ``I don't really think I got over him,'' she said.
It was 1981. Mary lived in Wichita, Kan. Bill lived in Bonner.
``My sister had been friends with Mary all these years while I was gone,'' Bill said. ``One day I was talking to her and she told me that Mary had divorced. And I said to her, `Do you think she would talk to me if I called her up?' And she said, `Sure.' ''
And so he did.
Mary, long over the hurt, loved hearing from Bill. They started ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< By JAMES A. FUSSELL
By JAMES A. FUSSELLc. 1997 Kansas City Star
c. 1997 Kansas City Star
(again in March of 1982.)
They were like school kids. They would take turns making the 3-hour drive between Wichita and Bonner to see each other. Bill called Mary on the telephone constantly, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. They would talk for hours. Bill's phone bill skyrocketed to more than $100 a month.
``I told you it was like a soap opera,'' Bill said.
They got remarried to each other in 1982.
Mary has forgiven him.
``He was young and foolish to do such a thing,'' she said. ``But he was a very good-looking man, and the women liked him, and I guess he just didn't know what he wanted. But the hurt had gone away.''
``Until I leave her again,'' Bill joked, ``and then she'll kill me.''
After 15 years, Bill says, he's not about to do it again.
``I've changed,'' he said. ``People do change.'' Bob and Nida Hill
Bob and Nida Hill were married for nine years and divorced for 18 years before marrying again more than 20 years ago. Today they are still together.
From the beginning they seemed fated to be together.
They met as children in northeast Missouri when Bob was 3, and Nida was an infant.
``My stepmom was related to Nida's family,'' Bob Hill said. ``When Nida was a baby, my mom took me over there to visit.''
They attended the same elementary school and the same high school in Macon, Mo. In 1949, Nida's senior year in high school, they were married ``with the understanding that I would graduate,'' Nida said.
She did. In their first marriage they had two children, Ronald and Michael, and lived briefly in Hawaii after Bob got called to duty with the naval reserve.
In 1956, after Bob moved his family to Kansas City after taking a job in the produce department at a Milgram grocery store, the relationship soured.
The couple divorced in 1958 when their boys were 2 and 4.
``It wasn't like we hated each other,'' Nida said. ``We were still good friends. We just kind of drifted apart.''
In the 18 years Bob and Nida were apart, Nida did not remarry.
Bob was another story. He not only married twice more, he also married, divorced, remarried and ``redivorced'' both his second and third wives!
He just wanted to make sure he tried everything to make things work, he said.
Through it all he stayed connected to his first family. He would call and ask if they were doing all right. If they needed money, he'd give it to them. If they needed a car to go to the grocery store or to the drive-in, he'd see they had one. He stayed close to his children and stayed friends with Nida's family.
He had two children, a daughter, Mary, and a son, Robert, from his second marriage. But he was never completely happy in his two other marriages.
After the divorce from his third wife (his fifth divorce), Bob was living in Kansas City with one of his sons.
So was Nida, as it happened, about a block away.
It didn't take long for love to bloom again. They began going to the movies and out to eat. She would invite him over to her place for tacos.
Before they knew it Bob had proposed to heragain.
Nida knew she was taking a chance. After all, Bob didn't have the best track record as a husband. But it felt right. Her old love was back.
``You ever have that old gut feeling?'' she said?
They got remarried in October of 1976 in a Nazarene Church _ just like the first time.
``Now this one better stick, or I'm going to stop going to the Nazarene (church),'' Nida joked.
But almost 21 years later things have stuck.
``I always told the boys I would never remarry your dad until he grows up,'' she said. ``And I guess that's what he did.''
Love rediscovered is a beloved theme
In the new movie ``That Old Feeling,'' Bette Midler and Dennis Farina get reacquainted at the wedding of their daughter. While they are not shown remarrying, the clear implication is that they will at least stick together.
A new theme?
Hardly. The divorced couple who find each other again and fall back in love is one of the oldest romantic comedy cliches around. Rewind to the 1930s and you'll find the same theme in Noel Coward's classic ``Private Lives.'' In the play, and the movie, a divorced man and woman are shown on their honeymoons with their new spouses. But when the divorced couple find themselves in the same hotel, they find their way back to each other.
Many celebrities also have married and remarried each other in real life. Such on-again off-again on-again couples include Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.
Go back to SOCIOLOGY 260 -- Sociology of Marriage and the Family Page
If you have any questions or comments please email: